After nine months of service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Naval Cmdr. and Fairfax resident William F. Hesse has returned home to a hero’s welcome.
On June 24 at Veteran’s Amphitheatre, he was awarded the Bronze Medal Star for his outstanding service as officer-in-charge in combat zones in Iraq. Among the attendees were his family and friends, as well as members of the City of Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department, where Hesse volunteers.
“The award was a very humbling honor,” said Hesse, who originally shipped out for duty on Sept. 5, 2006. “Very humbling. To have members from the firehouse there that day was very special for me. Overall, the award was really a great validation for our whole team in Iraq.”
Hess serves as a naval firefighter and damage control officer with the Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) and has lived in Fairfax with his family since 2002. He was presented the award by Adm. Patrick Walsh, vice chief of Naval Operations.
“I had a great team of soldiers, sailors and airmen supporting me,” said Hesse. “We could not have accomplished what we did without them. Also, I received a great amount of support from the city of Fairfax. All the packages and e-mails I received really went a long way.”
Hesse returned from duty on May 31, and celebrated with over 100 friends and family at a welcome home party for him July 7 at his parent’s home in Bayville, N.Y. Bayville Mayor Vicki Siegel even proclaimed July 7 as William Hesse Day.
Hesse earned the Bronze Star for his service as officer-in-charge of the Al Kasik region in Northern Iraq. Perhaps his greatest triumph came during the Ramadan period, where he was able to uncover a complex plan by insurgents to attack the Al Kasik Military Training Base.
“We had intelligence from very credible sources that they were planning to attack us,” he said. “From there, I coordinated seizures of their weapons and searches of the locations where they were held.”
Working with more than 6,000 Iraqi soldiers and 150 Coalition troops, Hesse developed a strategic base plan that eventually procured Iraqi machine guns, anti-tank weapons and ammunition.
“We just didn’t sit back, we sent out Iraqi forces or our forces because we didn’t want the weapons to remain in the insurgents’ hands,” he said. “We also increased our protection measures, our patrols and defended them.”
Hesse also faced the challenge of correlating troops from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force for a singular mission. Although on the surface combining troops from three different areas could present challenges and possible gaps in symmetry, Hesse said it went smoothly.
“In today’s military, joint operations are very common,” he said. “There are different ways of doing business, but everyone worked well together. That aspect was seamless between our groups.”
ANOTHER ONE of Hesse’s main objectives was to train senior Iraqi officials and provide them with the leadership and management techniques which will prepare the Iraqi Regional Support Unit to function independently.
“Cmdr. Hesse really displayed exemplary qualities in the combat zone in this area,” said Landon Hutchens, naval public affairs officer. “The key accomplishment was that he was able to empower his Iraqi counterparts. He didn’t just show them how to do things, he empowered them to do things.”
Hesse agreed that his work with the Iraqi officials was an accomplishment of which he is very proud.
“We had to get [the Iraqis] to believe in themselves,” he said. “It was challenging having the Iraqis shed their old ways and begin to believe in our system. There cultural issues to overcome as well as educational issues.”
“We empowered our Iraqi counterparts and gave them the proper tools,” he added. “Once they realized they could make things happen on their own, then they began to do great things.”
Hesse also oversaw several other key operations throughout his time in northern Iraq. On top of the intended mission of logistical support for the second and third Iraqi Army Divisions, he managed base security and $157 million of base infrastructure improvement projects.
Familiar to Hesse’s hard-working and serious attitude, the Bronze Medal Star award came as to no surprise to members of the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department.
Capt. Richard Miller, who has known Hesse for four years, said Hesse’s personal qualities have helped him succeed as both a naval officer and a fire fighter. Hesse was named the City of Fairfax Volunteer Fire Fighter of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.
“He approaches the fire fighting operations in a safe and appropriate manner, and molds very well with the day-to-day operations,” Miller said. “There is no doubt that his ability as a Navy Commander helped him move through fire fighter training well.”
Miller, noting Hesse took a week off in 2005 to travel to his hometown in rural Mississippi after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, said it’s apparent that Hesse has a strong dedication to his community.
When Hesse returned to the firehouse after nearly a year in Iraq, Miller commended him on not missing a step.
“It didn’t slow him at all,” Miller said. “He recognized he had things to catch up on and he worked hard to get back to speed.”
Back from Iraq, Hesse will rejoin NAVSEA as Chief Technical Officer in Fire Fighting/Damage Control/Chemical & Bio Defense. He is also continuing to support the City of Fairfax Fire Department as a volunteer.